New study presents encouraging results for cannabis treatment for autism

21st December 2021

Scientists in Israel have revealed the results of a recent study into the potential of cannabis formulations as a treatment option for autism disorder. The study aimed to understand how the two most common cannabis compounds – CBD and THC – could be useful.

The study, which involved the administration of cannabis formulations in autistic mice, found that cannabis was associated with increased levels of socialisation and a reduction in “obsessive” behaviours.

The researchers report that the findings of the study could contribute to a pivot in the direction of cannabis research. To date, the majority of research into cannabis as a potential treatment for the symptoms of autism have primarily focused on CBD – the most common non-intoxicating compound found in the cannabis plant; but, THC could prove a more promising option.

Past studies have demonstrated promising preliminary results for the potential of CBD, including another Israeli study that reported positive results for autistic patients using mainly CBD-based cannabis products. There is also growing anecdotal evidence that CBD use has been consistently on the rise among people with autism.

Nonetheless, this most recent study – carried out by researchers at Tel Aviv University – fund that THC may be significantly more effective.

Shani Poleg, one of the researchers of the study, told the Times of Israel: “Studies that are underway mostly don’t focus enough on the details of what it is in the cannabis that may be helping people.

“In our study, we looked at the details, and came up with surprising and interesting findings.”

According to the study, THC was more effective than CBD in reducing autism-associated behaviours. While CBD was able to help mice to deal with repetitive compulsive behaviours, Poleg comments that “the main difference was that THC treatment also improved social behaviour”.

Furthermore, while intoxication is a significant concern around THC-based treatments, the results suggest that only very small quantities of the compound may prove useful.

Poleg continued: “Our study shows that when treating autism with medicinal cannabis oil there is no need for high contents of either CBD or THC.

“We observed significant improvement in behavioral tests following treatments with cannabis oil containing small amounts of THC and observed no long-term effects in cognitive or emotional tests conducted a month and a half after the treatment began.”

Despite the promising results, the researchers warn that the findings are still preliminary and should not be considered treatment advice. As with all rodent studies, it remains unclear whether the active treatment used may have similar effects in humans.

Furthermore, researcher Poleg also notes that the mutation that caused autism in the mice in this study, Shank3, is only responsible for a small number of human autism cases. Nonetheless, it is hoped that these results will encourage an expansion of research into the potential of cannabis compounds in the treatment of autism-associated symptoms.

There is growing anecdotal evidence supporting the use of cannabis products – including CBD – as an alternative treatment. In the US, medical cannabis has been available on prescription in 14 states since 2014. However, there remains little clinical research in this area.

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